Microsoft Advances into High-End Clustering

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2006-05-08

Microsoft Advances into High-End Clustering

Microsofts foray into the high-end clustering software market took a step forward May 8 with the availability of the release candidate for its Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 product, a 64-bit operating system for industry-standard x64 processors.

And, at the other end of the software spectrum, the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant also announced the release candidate for Windows Small Business Server 2003 R2 on May 8.

The Windows Compute Cluster Server product will mark a milestone for Microsoft when released later this summer as it is a late-comer to a market largely dominated by open-source Linux software.

But Microsoft officials say they are committed for the long term to HPC (high-performance computing), as well as to a broader technical and scientific computing area.

Microsoft released the first, limited Windows Compute Cluster beta at its Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles in September 2005, with company chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates announcing the second beta at the Supercomputing show in Seattle in November 2005.

To read more about Microsofts Windows Compute Cluster Server, click here.

Kyril Faenov, Microsofts director for HPC (high-performance computing), told eWEEK previously that there are three main pillars for Microsoft: business computing; consumer computing; and, now, technical and scientific computing, an area in which there is room for many software advances.

Microsoft will release a single 64-bit-only version of CCS 2003, which will also run on all the hardware platforms supported by Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1, on which it is based.

All the major OEMs, including IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Dell and NEC Solutions America, as well as the major interconnect vendors, have announced support for the product, Faenov said.

"We are going to work with our hardware partners to tailor the systems to particular market scenarios and then to do benchmarks and evidence generation for key applications," he said.

Asked what its strategy is toward the Linux and open-source community, given Linuxs dominance in the HPC field and the fact that Microsoft is including the MPI (Message Passing Interface) in the product, Faenov said Microsoft has no such strategy per se.

"Our strategy is to deliver the best value and help grow the market, and we are making very pragmatic choices based on specific requirements we hear partners or customers want. MPI was an example of this, and if there are other places where this makes sense for us, our customers and/or partners, well look at them," Faenov said.

Click here to read more about how open-source code found its way into Windows Compute Cluster Server.

Some users, such as David Robert, a systems manager for a global consulting and engineering company in Cambridge, Mass., are hoping that Microsoft will be successful in making a product that is easier to use than Linux.

Next Page: Meeting goals.

Meeting Goals

Robert said his company, which set up a three-way Oracle cluster on Linux that uses a shared file system, "has been a bear, what with the lack of documentation and problems with our backup program not being compatible. Im sure Microsoft will do a better job in this arena than Linux," Robert told eWEEK.

Now that the Windows Compute Cluster Server code has met certain quality and performance goals and is suitable for production deployment by early adopter customers and partners, the product is on target to be released to manufacturers by the end of June, a Microsoft spokesman said.

So far, more than 30 customers are using Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 to solve their complex computational problems.

"The prescriptive setup procedures in Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 simplify network configuration, the remote loading of nodes using Remote Installation Services, node configuration and security setup," the spokesperson said.

The integrated Job Scheduler can be accessed via command-line interface or through several APIs provided for submitting and managing cluster workloads, while the job console allows customers to manage jobs in much the same fashion that they would queue and manage print jobs.

In addition, Active Directory integration provides user and security management, while the Microsoft Management Console supports extensible snap-ins and integration with Microsoft Operations Manager 2005.

Visual Studio 2005 allows developers to leverage their existing Windows-based skills when developing "massively parallel" applications and "embarrassingly parallel" applications, he said.

At the other end of the software spectrum, the release candidate of Windows Small Business Server 2003 R2, brings automated, network-wide patch and update management, giving users enhanced security and management; increased mailbox limits of 75GB (from 16GB); and expanded client access license (CAL) rights for access to additional Exchange 2003 and SQL 2005 Workgroup servers in the SBS 2003 R2 network.

Earlier this year Microsoft hosted some 400 of its small and midsize customers and partners at the Redmond campus as part of its inaugural Small Business Summit titled "Take Your Business to the Next Level."

Kevin Turner, Microsofts chief operating officer and former executive vice president of Wal-Mart Stores, used his opening keynote at that event to talk up its Small Business Server 2003 R2, show the new user interface and some features.

Read more here about SBS 2003.

Microsoft would only say that the SBS 2003 R2 product is on target for customer delivery later this year.

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